Radiohead realised that they needed to evolve quickly if they were going to survive. The original release of ‘Creep’ in 1992 was a dud, but a re-release in 1993 saw the single gain traction in the mainstream. Radiohead were suddenly on alt-rock radio and landed squarely in the pop-culture consciousness.
But ‘Creep’ became a burden quickly. Radiohead were branded as trend chasers, among the earliest wave of bands allegedly stealing from Seattle contemporaries like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. They were labelled one-hit wonders, and demand for ‘Creep’ began to supersede the demand for Radiohead. It was clear to the band what had to be done: adapt or die.
And so the group began compiling material for their follow up almost immediately. ‘My Iron Lung’ expressed the contempt and dissatisfaction that ‘Creep’ had levelled onto the band, while tracks like ‘High and Dry’ presented fame and attention in a sardonic and highly negative fashion.
But the band found that even songs that predated ‘Creep’ and Pablo Honey could articulate how they were feeling at the moment. ‘The Bends’, with its meditations on alienation and loss of identity, certainly fit the more generic writing of the band’s Pablo Honey material, but also took on a new weight after the success of ‘Creep’. While it was written in 1992, ‘The Bends’ quickly found a permanent spot among the band’s live show and provided the foundation for their next album.
While the clip below claims that the version shown is the earliest known performance of ‘The Bends’, that’s not the case. Radiohead had played the song as early as May of 1992, four months before the recording of Pablo Honey began. Somewhat strangely, the first known performance was at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow, the same venue where Alan McGee first saw Oasis play exactly a year later. Good things seemed to start at the Wah Wah Hut.
The band’s performance at The Metro in Chicago certainly wasn’t the debut of ‘The Bends’, but it very well might be the first time the band were filmed performing the song. Thom Yorke has his blonde shag working, leaning into the Kurt Cobain image that he would quickly attempt to abandon. Yorke introduces the song as being about “knowing who your friends are”, which seems like a bit of a dig at the audience. In any case, the band perform ‘The Bends’ with a fair bit of rock flair, showing that they were still very much an alternative guitar-based band at the time.
Check out the performance of ‘The Bends’, almost two years before it became the title track to Radiohead’s sophomore album, down below.